We work at the pleasure of money granted from either private institutions or through the trust of the public. In either case we have an obligation to see we spend this money well. I don’t think this means a lot of bureaucracy, but I do think it means a periodic and active reflection on:

  • what our responsibilities are;
  • how efficient we are in communicating with each other;
  • how efficient we are in communicating with our greater scientific community and the interested public.

I tend to think of these types of guidelines as coordinating documents; not legalistic as much as aspirational and communicative.

I looked around to see if I could find some examples, and surprisingly enough, there wasn’t a lot for theoretical physics1. It was as if the only guideline that mattered was the one already ingrained in all of us: do awesome work.

That’s fine. But there’s more to being functional than just doing awesome work.

-JJMC, 18 June 2017

Responsibilities of group members

All scientific group members

  • Uphold group’s code of conduct
  • Take care of yourself2.
  • Invest in research you care about. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re looking at, you should be looking at something else.
  • Support each other.
    • We each come with different domains of expertise. Specialization in a collaborative context can mean spectacular results. Surprising success in absolutely unexpected directions will come from leveraging mutual domain expertise.
  • Build up the greater community
    • Cite well and inclusively3.
    • Acknowledge help/ideas/inspiration/conversation generously . It costs us nothing other than the moment spent to reflect on what helped us get where we are.
    • Take the time to put your work in context that the audience (seminar/colloquium/conference-talk/lecture/public-talk/article) can understand and relate to.
    • Share data, code, aesthetics, and perspective openly and generously.

JJ’s responsibilities as PI:

  • Find funding, or give fair notice when funding will lapse.
  • Make himself available and accessible.
  • Cover administrative, paperwork, and grant-reporting issues.
  • Provide scientific leadership.
  • Provide career guidance and help group members work towards their career goals
    • Promote visibility for current and former group members.
    • Provide growth opportunities for group members.
    • Write recommendation letters to support current and former members.
    • Provide realistic performance feedback as requested.
  • Resolve disputes within the group.

Graduate student responsibilities:

  • Meet their graduate school reporting and exam requirements.
  • Identify and develop research projects with the help of the PI.
  • Apply effort to their research and work towards a PhD-worthy body of work.
  • Attend and present at group meetings and journal clubs.
  • Schedule necessary committee meetings.
  • Submit weekly summary.

Post-doc responsibilities:

  • Identify and develop research projects with the help of the PI.
  • Attend and present at group meetings and journal clubs.
  • Define their career goals and work towards them.
  • Pursue projects and collaborations that further their own career goals.
  • Provide scientific and technical leadership within the group.
  • Submit weekly summary.

Weekly summaries

Everyone should file brief weekly summaries covering what they’ve been up to; this provides both JJ and the group member with context and trajectory going forward, and means that in-person meetings can focus on specific issues rather than be more general reporting.

Weekly reports can and should be minimalist - list:

  • what you’ve been working on, including progress made and obstacles overcome;
  • deferred items and upcoming issues;
  • long term goals;
  • anything else you want JJ to know, including personal issues.

Most of the summary can be copy-pasted from the previous week; feel free to do so. If it takes you more than 10 minutes to do each week, you’r overdoing it.

Members should file summaries weekly, and generally by the same time each week. Let JJ know when to expect them. e.g.

JJ, expect my reports by Monday 4:30 pm. -XXX

If taking time off, then note that in advance and don’t submit weekly reports during that period.


  • Get permission from JJ before booking any travel over €200. Under €200, email him assuming a default of “yes” unless he raises an objection within 3 working days.
    If the travel is more urgent, mention “urgent” in the email subject.

  • Book travel 15 days in advance for it be reimbursable.

  • Contact Sylvie with your reimbursement request and please CC JJ on the e-mail.


JJ approves most research tangibles (computers, books, etc.). Please motivate, price things out roughly, and identify alternatives.

Under €1800,

  • Under €200, Email JJ, assuming default of “yes” unless he objects within 3 working days. Check following before ordering
    • Library for books/journals.
    • Laurent for software licenses.
  • Orders under €1800 happen without a ton of paperwork after clearing with JJ.

Over €1800, JJ needs to be involved with the paperwork…

  1. The writeup I felt closest to my ideal starting point was Titus Brown’s, from which I did indeed lift shamelessly. While exploring his site I also came across his excellent “Lab Code of Conduct”, which I’ve incorporated

  2. Good science, like many things worth doing in life, is a marathon, not a sprint. But how you run this race effects your ability and willingness to go after another. You not only want to make it to this finish line, but the next, and the next and the next… 

  3. References in theoretical physics aren’t merely the breadcrumbs we find useful. They exist to weave our contributions into the greater web of the academic program. Standard practice is to refer to any relevant work whether or not it was interesting / useful / pedagogical / a complete waste of your time. If some work is problematic – don’t ignore it, politely point out what you found useful and what traps might be ahead for the unsuspecting reader.